"Ghost in the Machine" (general release) deftly envisions a dead serial killer living on as a computer virus. As a technological thriller, this 20th Century Fox release has superior special effects, maintains a clear story line through a thicket of computer mumbo-jumbo, but its machinery tends to be more interesting than its people. To her credit, director Rachel Talaly pulls everything together sharply and briskly.
Karen Allen stars as a Cleveland divorcee, a TWA office worker who goes to an electronics store to buy a present for her ultra-organized boss. She hits upon a scanning device, which the salesman demonsprates by showing how easily it can scan her address book. In a rush, she forgets her address book, which is promptly snagged by the store's weirdo repairman (Ted Marcoux), who is in fact an elusive serial killer.
Never mind that Marcoux dies in a car accident rushing off to kill Allen; the way in which writers William Davies and William Osborne have his evil mind live on beyond the grave is ingenious and even creepily credible. Marcoux, in short, has accidentally become plugged into the brain of an elaborate mainframe computer. Electrical circuitry enables him to have limitless possibilities in turning even the most mundane household appliance into a deadly weapon.
The film's special-effects teams under coordinator Richard L. Thompson--Richard Hollander and his company VIFX handled the optics, John Richardson and his people the physical aspects--can't be praised enough. All the ways in which the killer's evil spreads and manifests itself are consistently dazzling. The trouble is that they show up the film's human relationships as drab and conventional in comparison.
Allen is your typical stressed-out single mother, her 13-year-old son (Wil Horneff) the usual bright but troubled fatherless adolescent. The film's biggest contrivance is not technical but in having maverick computer genius Chris Mulkey show up out of the blue just at the right moment.
There's a chemistry between Allen and Mulkey, fine actors both, but there's no time for it to develop. There's probably enough technical wizardry to satisfy sci-fi/horror fans, but the depictions of various grisly deaths through electrocution--and other terrible means--rule out "Ghost in the Machine" for youngsters.
'Ghost in the Machine'
Karen Allen: Terry Munroe
Chris Mulkey: Bram Walker
Ted Marcoux: Karl Hochman
Wil Horneff: Josh Munroe
A 20th Century Fox presentation. Director Rachel Talaly. Producer Paul Schiff. Screenplay William Davies & William Osborne. Cinematographer Phil Meheux. Editors Janice Hampton, Erica Huggins. Costumes Isis Mussenden. Music Graeme Revell. Production designer James Spencer. Art director Jim Truesdale. Set designer Jann Engel. Set decorator Sarah B. Stone. Sound Mark Weingarten. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (for high-tech horror violence). Assorted grisly deaths, graphically presented, rule the film out for small children.